Compassion And Entitlement

Homeless_woman_in_Washington,_D.C.A couple years ago, I stopped by Target to pick up a few necessities. As I was putting my purchases in the trunk of my beater . . . uh, vintage Honda Accord, a thirty-something guy walked up to me with iPod earbuds around his neck, dressed in better clothes than I was wearing, and asked me for a handout.

Generally when people ask for money, I try to give it. I mean, I may not have much, but I have a roof over my head. And I think the love of Christ compels me to share with those who are less fortunate. Except . . . this guy didn’t look less fortunate. And he also seemed oblivious about the situation because when I said I didn’t think he was any less prosperous than I, he started to argue.

A few weeks ago a visitor to my church blessed a homeless woman (I’ll call her Joy) who sometimes attends by taking her out to lunch. The next week the visitor who was returning home the next day wanted to give Joy a sort of care package but couldn’t find her, so left it with me in our church library (where Joy often comes to watch the service on closed circuit TV).

Sure enough, a short time later she came in. I happily gave her the sack with her name on it and explained where it came from. She thanked me, looked inside, and left it on the counter. Don’t forget you bag, I reminded her a couple times. At last she was packed up and ready to leave. She stopped by the library desk and said she didn’t think she could take the food sack. It was pretty heavy and most of the things in it she couldn’t eat. No problem, I said, and took the bag to the donations bin.

Just a week ago or so, I came to a stop light and in the center divider was a young man who looked like he could be a football player—a wide receiver, perhaps. And he was holding a sign—something like, “Veteran down on his luck.” He was collecting donations from the people waiting for the light to turn.

I kept thinking, I wish I knew a job opening where he could apply. I think that’s what he needs to spend his time doing instead of panhandling.

But there it was—my attitude toward people who seem to have a sense of entitlement, to the point that healthy young men (seemingly healthy, at any rate) are begging for money instead of looking for work, and homeless old women are turning down food.

I’m caught between feeling the responsibility to share generously with those in need, and the suspicion that the needy are too often gaming the system.

I didn’t mention the times I’ve been asked for a couple dollars for the bus or money for gas because their tank is empty and they don’t have any cash on them. Sure, maybe . . . And maybe not.

It doesn’t help that a local news show that exposes frauds and injustices did a piece some time ago about a guy who panhandled for several hours at a gas station, then got into his BMW, or some other equally expensive vehicle. He had no problem making money off other people’s generosity.

I have to wonder what Jesus would do in these circumstances. He didn’t give out money, but He distributed food. As I noted in “Take Up Your Cross Daily”, however, there came a point when He said, if you want to come after me, you need to stop living for your self.

Of course I’m not Jesus, and I don’t want people following me. I do want, however, to be a representative of Christ to the watching world.

Some Christians think we do no one any favor by giving beggars money because they might use it for drugs. Or we’re making it easy for them not to get a job. What they need, the thinking goes, is tough love, not a handout.

But what about compassion? Jesus saw needs and was moved with compassion. I think the visitor to our church was moved by compassion for Joy. But in the end, what she offered was spurned.

Does that matter? Isn’t it always right to do right, no matter what the other person does? I mean, none of us “deserves” what we have, contrary to all the commercials that say otherwise. We certainly don’t deserve God’s compassion.

Is compassion like forgiveness? James leads me to think it is. He made the case for treating people without partiality, then concluded that section by saying, “For judgment will be merciless to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12)

About forgiveness, Paul said, “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” (Col. 3:14b) And of course Jesus told the story about the forgiven servant who turned around and refused to forgive the debt of a fellow servant.

I’m not saying giving to homeless people or beggars is required of the Christian, but I think a heart of compassion is. I don’t need to judge Joy for turning down the offering of food. She said something about a special diet because of allergies and the weight which put stress on her bad back. I have allergies too, and sometimes my back is bad. I don’t want people judging me for the way I deal with those conditions, so why should I judge her.

The homeless guys and the beggars may be scamming the public, but is it my place to judge them? Even if I’m not in a position to give money to them, I can give what I have—prayer for their physical needs, prayer for their ethical and moral needs. God knows exactly what those are, so it’s never wrong to pray.

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Published in: on July 29, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. Ah, good post. This is something I also wrestle with daily. Here in the Western world there is something called poverty of spirit, not the good kind, but the kind that makes you poor when you really needn’t be. People don’t really need money or food or jobs as much as they need some soul food, some encouragement, some dignity. How we go about feeding those spirits however, is challenging indeed. People need friendship, relationship, spiritual food, Christ, to know that they are loved, this whole time consuming meal that requires quite an investment. Then there are the people that actually need to hit bottom even more before they can learn to come in from the rain. Our pastor last week spoke of the need for us to learn the difference between a parasite and a protege. A protege genuinely needs a hand up, while a parasite is there to drain you of all you have to give and then to move on.

    One thing we can give people that is totally free is to just see them, to acknowledge their presence, to perceive them as fully human and to send some love and dignity their way. Prayers are always good, too.

    It’s difficult. I live in freebie USA and this is actually a tourist attraction for the down and out. Most of the “down and out” live better than I do, but their spirits don’t, they are hungry for something and they don’t even know what it is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well said, IB. This is precisely what I was writing about. I like your pastor’s contrast between parasite and protege. Excellent. Thanks for adding so much to the topic.

      Becky

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  2. One cannot always know the truth about the people who ask for aid. A few times, at the urging of my therapist, I went to our Mid-County food bank. I didn’t come away with much because I am on a special diet, and also because I know that I would never become hungry enough to eat certain foods (canned spinach) and thought it was best reserved for those who did eat that.

    I suppose some people might think I am well off because I drive a pickup truck (that belongs to my mother) and have computer access (also provided by mom) and so I don’t like to talk about my situation. But sometimes when people— some supposedly Christian— who talk about the ‘welfare bums’ on food stamps eating steak and lobster every day, I lose it and tell them the truth— that while food prices are rising food stamp amounts have been shrinking, to the point I believe it is no longer possible to eat three meals a day on food stamps, unless the person eats nothing but ramen noodles (which could kill you, it’s nothing but carbs and salt.)

    And I think sometimes when people act surly when being offered charity, it’s part of human nature. No one grows up wanting to be a welfare bum. I know I sometimes experience anger at the petty rules of both welfare and the food banks. Probably that anger is composed of 99% shame at not being ‘normal’ enough to get jobs to support myself.

    I understand that people, even Christians, often need to say ‘no’ to requests for a handout. But I hope that we as Christians can learn to judge less harshly than the world does, and that every Christian who has to say ‘no’ to giving a handout will at least pray for the person that asked for it.

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    • Amen, Nissa. This is precisely what I’m writing about. We don’t know the other person’s story and should never judge. Jesus told us we should “walk the extra mile” and give out coat as well as our cloak. We aren’t to be like the government, asking people to prove their need. There shouldn’t be hungry widows at our churches. We should care for them and for the orphans in their distress. We should befriend the stranger. Instead, we too often assume a stranger is an illegal and frown at them.

      I think it’s Paul who chastises the church for Christians suing each other. He said it would be better to be defrauded. I think that same mindset applies here. Why not be generous in spirit and generous in action when possible, even if the person who presents himself as needy is trying to defraud us.

      It’s not God who comes off looking bad in those circumstances. And it’s not up to us to sort out who is really in need and who isn’t. We need to lay before God whatever comes our way and depend on His Spirit to guide us, I think.

      Sometimes that will mean heartfelt prayer, sometimes words of blessing, and other times whatever help we’re able to provide. But whatever we do, it needs to be as if we’re doing it to Jesus Himself. That approach might change everything! 😉

      Becky

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  3. Becky, the bottom line is we have to be led by the Spirit. Sometimes that is hard to discern, but I try to pray.

    We have lived in areas with big panhandler groups. The police stopped my husband once and told him not to give to them in that area because all they do is pool their money and party. Well, a few days later he was in a gas station nearby and a passenger van drove up and a whole group of panhandlers jumped out. It was like the driver was a panhandler pimp or something. Good grief. Then in another city there was a woman who as soon as we saw her started to limp and look dejected. We drove around the block and I said, “Something is wrong there, let’s watch her for a few minutes.” We saw here clear down the street clipping like a teenager..

    It is sad because there are down and outers but the Vet thing is another story. The Vets have help. They have homes they can go to and the VA will help them along with other homeless groups. They choose to live on the street. We gave money to a guy who just needed a few dollars for bus fare to get to one of the homes. He was clean and didn’t want to go but had no choice. He didn’t ask for money the Lord just had him at the same bench I was on.

    We still give here and there, when the Lord shows us, but we pray. I have a lot of compassion having been a single mom years ago with four kids and no help ore decent income.

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    • Your story dovetails with what that TV expose showed. There simply are people at every level of society who will take advantage of others—their willingness to trust, to believe what they’re told, to give generously to those in need. It’s a sad state our culture is in and a product, I believe, of godlessness. But I don’t think the Christian response is to assume the worst. We actually know our hearts are desperately wicked. That’s the state humans are in, but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

      In the same way, I don’t think Christians should wait until someone cleans up their act to be generous toward them. And yet, it’s not reasonable to give to those we know are misusing or abusing our generosity.

      As you said, we need to let the Holy Spirit direct us.

      Becky

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  4. This is an excellent article and I am thankful for it. I have often struggled with those same questions and when I worked at the mission, it was worse. We saw things that were wrong, but the bottom line is that even the mission can’t provide for all they need. Handouts are a necessity. They need extra drinking water on those hot summer days, coffee to keep them warm in the winter, propane for their campsites, extra blankets and even extra food. One homeless guy I know from my time at the mission does use marijuana from time to time and confessed that to me. I figure that if I have him promise to not use what I give him on drugs (and he did), then I have done my bit. I can’t imagine how tough it must be to live on the streets. There are so many little comforts of home that we take for granted. Most of the homeless I have met have had terribly painful beginnings in their lives and they can only help themselves so much. Add to that, our “wrap around services” don’t really “wrap around” all that much. From my time at the mission, I finally decided to “give to those who ask of me” with as much discretion as possible and leave the rest up to God. I totally agree with your comments. Thank you for them. 🙂

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